- transcribed and edited by Venerable Aneja
Introduction to Medicine Buddha PracticeShakyamuni Buddha turned the wheel of Dharma three times and the Medicine Buddha teaching was included in the first turning. In this degenerate age, sentient beings suffer from many sicknesses, some of which we have never heard before. Even with intensive research, the cure for some of these diseases still cannot be found, leaving doctors very perturbed. These are signs of a degenerate age in which diseases are caused by the negative actions accumulated through dishonesty and aggressive behavior.
The blessing of the Medicine Buddha is helpful for elevating suffering and to treat diseases that are said to be incurable. The benefits of the recitation of the Medicine Buddha mantra are useful in this life and beyond. The Medicine Buddha said that He would save us from the lower realms and protect us from bring reborn there. Thus, there are many benefits arising from this practice.
After Guru Rinpoche went to Tibet, the Medicine Buddha practice was the first to flourish in the Land of Snow. In ancient Tibet, many Nyingmapa masters practice the Medicine Buddha sadhana. This practice is very special and unique, as it not only cures our physical sickness but our mental sickness as well. Actually our mental sickness is more severe than our physical sickness. Physical sickness can be cured with medicine but the mental sickness of anger, jealousy and hatred is only curable by applying the Buddha’s teaching.
Sometimes, people with mental sickness may go to a psychiatrist for help. Methods that psychiatrists employ may provide some hope for recovery but may not cure the patient completely. When the methods do not work, the patients often end up feeling more confused and their condition may worsen.
Some time ago, a friend of mine in Denmark was admitted to the hospital and the diagnosis confirmed that he was suffering from the final stage of intestine cancer. He had no family and lived alone in the countryside with 2 dogs. He felt really devastated upon hearing the diagnosis and tried to seek help from various places. To his disappointment, everywhere he went, he was told that it was too late; his condition was just too severe. Eventually, he met a lama from India and asked him what he could do. The lama instructed him to do the Medicine Buddha practice and told him that even if he could not be cured, this practice would be useful after death. My friend was very happy and practiced diligently despite his physical pain, which he tried to endure by taking painkillers from time to time. After practicing for a few weeks, he felt refreshed, comfortable and energetic, and he gradually got better. He went to the lama again to receive blessings and traveled to Bodhgaya to do prostrations and circumambulations. Upon his recovery, he went back to Denmark and is currently still alive. This shows that the faith and karmic connection to the practice are very important.
Preliminary to the Practice
Image of Medicine Buddha
To do the Medicine Buddha practice, you can place an image or a thangka of the Medicine Buddha at your altar. Otherwise, you can visualize the Medicine Buddha in the space before you. Sometimes it is easier to practice by visualizing the Medicine Buddha as we can develop attachment to the thangka. Should the thangka be damaged by heat and moisture, you may feel that you have lost the blessing from the Medicine Buddha. Therefore, it is mentioned in the Medicine Buddha text that even if you cannot find a statue or image of the Medicine Buddha, you can do your own visualization.
Next, you make offering of water, flowers, incense, lamp, scented water, food and music. You can also make these offerings mentally. When we make offerings with physical objects, we can get trapped by many discriminating thoughts. You may not wish to acquire good offering at high prices and will try to bargain for a better price. You may even have thoughts like, “Why do I need to offer such expensive things to the Medicine Buddha?” Therefore, it is sometimes better to make the offerings mentally as this will eliminates some of the discriminating thoughts. After making the offerings, you can proceed to do the chanting.
For high Tantric practice, you do not need to be a vegetarian and you may still be able to drink alcohol. However, this doesn’t give one the excuse to become alcoholic!
As part of the rule and regulation of the lineage, you must receive the initiation to do the practice. As what I’ve mentioned earlier, the transmission is given by the guru to the disciple, the disciple practices diligently and then passes the instructions on to the next disciple.
Our physical and mental sicknesses are caused by disturbing emotions. The more disturbing emotions we have, the more sickness we are inflicted with. From the Buddhist point of view, the sickness of the body and mind are also caused by ignorance. Ignorance refers to not being able to see the true nature of the mind. You are only liberated when you have discovered the true nature of the mind. Until then, you still need to accumulate merits and perform virtuous deeds at the conventional level in order to obtain the true nature of the mind.
Milarepa says, “In the ultimate truth, there is no demon and no Buddha; no meditator and no meditation; no 10 bhumis and no 5 aggregates; no 3 kayas, no wisdom and no nirvana.”
This is what we need to achieve through the various methods in Vajrayana and Mahayana. Until such accomplishment is achieved, we still need to take the refuge vows and generate bodhicitta. These practices will lead us to achieve the true nature of the mind, the ultimate truth.
The Buddha taught the 4 Noble Truths during the first turning of the wheel of Dharma at Sarnath. The message that the Buddha was trying to convey was the identification of suffering. Following then, the Buddha taught according to the individual’s capacity and hence teachings such as Theravada, Mahayana and Vajrayana emerged. Some people say that there are contradictions among these 3 traditions, this is not true. The methods taught may be different because they need to cater to different individuals, but they all serve to achieve the same aim. For instance a doctor may prescribe different treatment to different patients according to their needs. He may recommend a surgery for one patient, injection for the other and medicine for another. These treatments all converge to the same aim of curing the patients and not to kill them.
In the same way, the Buddhas and bodhisattvas developed many skills and methods to help beings of different capacities. The different methods in Sutrayana and Vajrayana all serve to accomplish the same aim. Practitioners should not think that these practices are contradictory. You are your own judge whether the method is beneficial or not. This is how we should practice. Therefore, the more we practice the Dharma correctly, the more true understanding will arise.
The Buddha said that the finding of liberation depends on the individual. The Buddha cannot transfer his quality to others. You must be dependent on yourself for liberation, not others. We have in us the same quality as the Buddha. He had given us the way and the procedure and there is no doubt that what the Buddha taught was based on what he had experienced. The only problem is that we lack the intelligence (wisdom) and are too lazy to practice. You are inspired to practice when you hear profound and interesting teaching. However, as time passes, you stop practicing. If you continue in your practice, you will know that all Dharma practices are the same. All advices from the Buddha are perfect, there isn’t one that is better than the other.
Our ignorance deludes our mind to differentiate teachings. The delusion becomes more serious when you become so sectarian that what you see with your left eye differs from what you see with your right. For instance, a Maha-atthi practitioner may think that Maha-atthi is the best and Mahamudra is only so-so; a Mahamudra practitioner may think that Mahamudra is the best and Madhyamaka is only so-so. How would you know unless you put the Dharma into practice?
All instructions from the Buddha are the same but the lineage masters emphasize different areas to different individuals by examining their capacity. Therefore, these masters invent other methods based on the Buddha’s teaching. This is why the Vajrayana tradition has many sadhanas, deities and mandalas. Actually if you can practice one sadhana well under proper guidance, that should be enough. You do not need to shop for practices as if you are shopping in the mall, it is simply a waste of time. You can be your own judge on how much benefit you have reaped from the practices. These days, we have books, Dharma centers and teachers to teach us, but how much have we applied? This is something worth reflecting.
People experience greater agitation, expectations and frustrations in this degenerate age, thus they cannot practice properly. Actually, the routine of our daily life happens naturally. We get up in the morning, take a shower, eat breakfast, go to work, then after some work, we go for lunch. It is quite impossible for us to forget lunch. Therefore, Dharma practice should be as such. Let it become such an integrated part of your daily life so that you will not forget it. If you can persevere in your practice, there is no doubt that you’ll be benefited. The Buddha did not lie; He had already gone through the path Himself and knew that the teachings were correct. What we lack is the training and discipline. However, we sometimes forget to practice and waste time walking around, chatting at coffee shops and nightclubs.
Very often, it is when you face some tragedy, for instance a failure in business that you return to the Dharma circle again. This is not correct. The Dharma should not be pegged to circumstances. Death, sickness and old age happen naturally. We should not judge the Dharma practice according to our expectation. Some people may think, “I have practiced for 15 years. I wear many protection amulets around my neck and the weight on my neck gets heavier each year but my obstacles also increase each year. “This common problem among Buddhist practitioners is due to the lack of continuity in the practice. It is very important to continue in our practice whether we are busy or not, whether we are in solitude or among friends. We just have to continue practicing.
I come to Singapore very year to teach. This sharing of the Dharma and the instructions that I had received is important even if it is for just half an hour. Although it is my duty to teach, it is not sufficient to just listen to the teachings, instead you must put the teachings into practice. Grand pujas and initiations are not important. What is important is that we have to wake up. We are still sleeping and have not woken up. Like us, all Buddhas and bodhisattvas had ignorance at the beginning but they have since woken up after going through serious training. The Buddha did not say that we cannot be like Him, instead, he taught that we have the same qualities as him and can achieve what He had achieved if we want to.
The Buddha is not saying this to entertain us; He is genuinely concerned about us and does not want to see us suffer meaninglessly. How many times have we been reborn in samsara and what benefits have we received? We have only experienced more problems, disasters, sickness, worries, one after another. Now, is the time to wake up.
No one wants to suffer, therefore we have to cut the root of suffering. The teaching of the Four Noble Truths that the Buddha taught in his first turning of the wheel of the Dharma is very important. It is taught not simply for us to listen, but to practice it.
The Buddha did not dictate what we must do, it is entirely up to us whether we want to practice or not. The Buddha always encouraged people to examine themselves and his teachings. If they deem it to be meaningful, then they can apply it in their lives; if they see it to be meaningless, then they can just ignore it.
Different religions have different methods to achieve the common aim of benefiting people. Why did you choose Buddhism over other religions? Ask yourself this question and look for your own answer. You are your best witness. Through the years that you spend practicing, you would know if you are at the 1st bhumi, 10th bhumi or still downstairs! Has the Dharma transformed you, changed you and what development have you achieved? Examining oneself is very important. Nobody examines me but I examine myself if I have practiced the authentic teachings correctly or not.
The great Kadampa master Atisha said that there are 2 types of witnesses – witness for others and witness for oneself. The latter is more important. Others can judge your physical actions and speech but only you can judge your own mind. The more you engage in the Dharma practice, the more your qualities will develop. Do not think that you are hopeless. You just lack intelligence (wisdom) and diligence; you just have to wake up!
How do you know if the Dharma is perfect or imperfect? Until you practice it!
How do you know if chocolates are sweet or bitter? Until you taste it!
The Buddha did not want people to respect him blindly, but to respect him by examining and understanding his teaching. Therefore, the Buddha repeatedly said that we need to put the Dharma into serious practice. This does not mean that we have to sit in meditation for 3 or 4 hours. Just sitting for 20 minutes daily is an important practice that will bring results.
In Tibet, the Medicine Buddha puja is performed on many occasions in major temples to benefit the sick and deceased as well as for the clearing of obstacles. The puja can be performed both as an individual practice as well as a group practice. However, nowadays people discriminate between the Buddhas and deities. They feel that, if you are sick, you should pray to the Medicine Buddha and not to Amitabha because Amitabha would not be able to help you; if you are dying, you should pray to Amitabha and not to the Medicine Buddha because the Medicine Buddha would not be able to help you. If you have some wishes to fulfill, you should pray to Tara. This discrimination renders our dear Buddha jobless!
It is still acceptable if we can pray to Tara while remembering that she is the embodiment of all Buddha and deities. But the problem is, we do not have this awareness most of the time. Guru Rinpoche said that all Buddhas and Bodhisattvas arise from the Dharmakaya. From the Dharmakaya comes the Sambhogakaya; from the Sambhogakaya comes the Nirmanakaya. Perfect beings see the Dharmakaya, semi-deluded beings see the Sambhogakaya and deluded beings like us see the Nirmanakaya.
At a conventional level, it is acceptable to think that, “If I’m hungry, I need food; if I’m thirsty, I need water”, therefore “If I’m sick, I should pray to the Medicine Buddha; if I need to clear obstacles, I should pray to Tara.” However, we must always remember that there is no difference between the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas.